Back In The Atmosphere
Deceiver

With every move the mud only entraps you further. You fight hard, but in vain. Now up to your ribs you feel the weight of hundreds of damned souls crushing you and dragging you down with all their might. Losing control you open your mouth and water rushes in to fill the void left by your rapidly departing life. Grasping madly you feel something hard amongst the silt and seize it. The object fills you with light and breath but quickly follows it with searing and excruciating pain. 

Your vision goes black.

Like a neon sign running experimentally through its course, every light in the Encina household came on one after another, and then went off again in reverse order. When Karen woke up screaming, her entire family had either been woken immediately or was shortly thereafter by the associated ruckus. While the whole house clusters worried around its youngest resident, Karen herself tried to persuade them all to leave her be.

Nightmares were not an uncommon occurrence, nor were they one that begged for immediate response. Quite on the contrary, Karen was entirely sure that all this coddling could wait until morning.

Though TV and movies might convince one otherwise, sixth senses are not strictly hereditary. Though Karen’s mother, father, brothers, maternal aunt and uncle, paternal uncles, maternal grandparents and paternal grandmother were no doubt a diversely skilled and talented caste of characters, not a one of them could relate to what Karen had just experienced. Nor would they be able to understand her future actions. 

Darkness

Confronted with a fist-backed amalgam of tape and glove, the mandible of the first skeleton was quickly removed, and with repeated exposure to a fiberglass stick its frontal and parietal bones too admitted defeat. 

Though weighed down by his pads and mask, Michael barely tired as he struck down one after another of the bony sentries. After kicking in the knee of one and crushing its head under his elbow, he laughed shallowly, punctuating his words with pants. 

"Heh…Is that, really, all you’ve got?"

From some other realm came the unexpected answer.

No.”

Bursting through the ice beneath him, skeletal hands seized Michael’s ankles, pulling him down into the inky darkness of the pond’s frigid interior. 

Michael cast aside his stick, swinging frantically at the phantoms that swirled around him. Fear enveloped him. With every heavy strike he felt himself grow more weak. Settling quickly on a new plan, Michael stopped moving, plummeting down past the monsters. Propelled by his equipment’s weight, Michael forcefully hit the bottom and attempted to bounce back with similar speed.

Instead, where he alighted on the mucky bottom he sunk, powerless to pull away from the madness. 

Harder

To the true artist, all things are possessed by the simple glory and beauty of creation. Michael Nylund considered himself an artist of the highest caliber. 

In hockey, stickhandling is everything. The ability to take control of the puck and, beyond that, the situation and the game as a whole, is absolutely crucial for all players. To this end, Michael spent untold hours of his adolescence practicing. He had not been a natural at such coordinated and fine movements, his bodily proportions making him unwieldy from a young age, but as is often said, hard work trumps talent when talent refuses to work hard. Back home in Michigan he was a very desirable and scouted player, and had he not been forced to travel abroad he no doubt would have been picked up by a d1 school. 

Here though, Michael was once again a no one. Store owners didn’t greet him by name, and his steps elicited no diffident nods. He was assumed by most to be a tourist, and as far as he was concerned he might as well be. He had no intentions to stay here much longer than he had to. 

Already this impromptu vacation was off to a lackluster start. Unused to the presence of their offspring, the elder Nylunds continued on living the sorts of trivial lives expatriates are drawn to, with Michael left alone to entertain himself. To many, this would be no problem, as being unsupervised in a new place can be full of adventure, but for a youth used to regiment and schedule, this was near fatal. After a bit of purposeless wandering proved, as expected, unsatisfying, Michael decided that his only recourse was to start Summer training on his own. 

Devoid of team or coach, Michael found this practice to more than make up for in tranquility what it lacked in potency. 

No man is an island however, or even a peninsula really, and as days dragged into weeks, boredom’s malicious gaze peeked out from every nook. On one Thursday, Michael found the monotony of drilling particularly mind-numbing, and allowed his mind to be distracted with bouncing the puck. Blinking his eyes lazily, he felt his heart slow to match the steady movement of his arm and his brain begin to lose count, fog blurring and contorting the numbers. Michael snapped awake, shocked at how quickly he could succumb to mental exhaustion. Wrinkling his forehead and stopping his arm, he stifled a yawn as he watched the puck fall, moving past the end of the stick and slapping the ice. 

As soon as the puck touched the ice, a shockwave seemed to spread through the pond’s frozen surface. The horrific cracking intensified and Michael watched in dull bemusement as the ice a few feet in front of him split wide and bony hands pulled skeletal bodies out of the frigid water. The first body rolled its neck experimentally and then helped pull two of its compatriots through the hole. Turning now to face him, Michael found himself stricken with the sheer level of malice that emanated from the skeleton’s dark eye holes. 

Though confused and not a little surprised, Michael was not afraid. He cracked his knuckles and turned his hands back and forth before planting his stick on the ground and looking towards the monsters. 

"Let’s do it then."

Tales from Na Sing Se Pt. II

My work has, at least to me, a very interesting rogue’s gallery of characters. Here I’ll relate to you some of them.

There’s the mid 50’s guy who washes dishes. He’s quick to praise people and ingratiate himself to them, but just as quick to become irritated with anyone who has expectations he considers too demanding. Divorced and still reeling from his mother’s recent death, he drinks considerably and presumably bikes to work because he lost his license.

There’s the mildly mentally disabled man who’s been working there for a few decades. A borderline alcoholic, he spends most of his time with his roommates knocking back beers. He’s never really left the place since he started working there, excepting a short stint when his possessive then girlfriend made him quit. 

There’s the nerdy girl who works in the kitchen. She’d like to be a nurse, but instead she spends her time playing video games, watching Dr. Who and drifting through various service professions. Of anyone she’s perhaps the mentally healthiest person there.

There’s the older woman with bad teeth and the sort of slurred speech typically associated with an inner city education, who somehow still believes in treating others as she would like to be treated and goes out of her way to help other people in the kitchen.

There’s the new server who had her son at fourteen and dreams of quitting smoking, dropping some weight and being a flight attendant, or maybe, daring to dream more, a musician. She spends most days in a state of tragic frazzledness, unable to deal emotionally with how ugly the public usually is.

There’s the flamboyantly homosexual dishwasher who spends most of his time at the restaurant even when not working, simply because he doesn’t really have anywhere else to go. 

There’s the server who’s been with us for five years now, and who very clearly hates her job and doesn’t seem to be overly enthused about anything in her life. 

There’s other people too, but now I’ve exhausted myself. 

Tales from Na Sing Se

This is a collection of stories gathered from people I have met in my ongoing adventure of life. Some I’ll relate in their own words, some I’ll have to describe.

Cindy’s Story:

Is everyone here a heavy drinker?

"Either that or a pot smoker. I was never much of a public drinker, so I never had any DUIs. I was more of a closet drinker."

If you don’t mind my asking, did you go to AA or just deal with it on your own?

"Yeah, I went to AA. I’ve been sober 9 years as of March. For the first two years I just cried. My sponsor had me writing all the time, putting all my dirt out there in the open, and I just cried all the time. I don’t go anymore, but for a while I just couldn’t stop crying."

Randall’s Story:

Yeah, all my friends go to UGA, or KSU, or Southern…

"Bleh.."

Not a Southern fan?

"My brother went there."

Oh, and he didn’t like it?

"My brother’s dead. I was three, so it was five years ago. It was his girlfriend that shot him. She thought it was a bb gun, but it wasn’t. A bb gun will kill you too if you shoot them in the right spot, and she did too. Right through the heart."

The IHOP Waitress’s Story:

If I may ask, what is the significance of the tattoo on your wrist?

"It’s the date of birth and death of my boyfriend."

Oh, I’m so sorry. How did he die?

"He was killed. His mom took this girl in off the street, and she killed him in his sleep. I don’t know why."

Costco

It was so hard for me to justify breaking the narrative flow. Granted, I’m not in a very productive mood right now anyway, so I was able to justify it. Lucky for you. 

I promise I’ll get back to the story of Michael, (which is also related to Conrad’s story and the story of the old man in Russia), as soon as I’m able. Until then I will continue another series that was never finished. My stories of life. Sorta. 

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been going to Costco. Maybe because I spent so much of my formative period in this retailer, I’ve developed a sort of bond with it. Costco is like a city or jungle in of itself, where no matter how many people there are, you can always wander off into the back tangles of abandoned forklifts and Huggies boxes and find yourself lost in nature. Costco is humankind crafting the trees out of glorious arcing steel and shaping an oasis from hot dogs and churros. 

I really like Costco.

At my Costco though, there’s one thing that I find insurmountably sad. There’s a young woman who works there, and has for a number of years. She is a cashier who punches in the things you buy before you pay. She has dark hair and glasses, and she always wears converse. She’s pretty. Maybe that’s why I find her struggle so poignant. Art must be beautiful, no? If you disagree forgive my superficiality. Regardless, nothing about her would peak my interest, excepting the new addition to her wardrobe I’ve noticed on recent visits. 

A carpal tunnel wrist brace. 

In a beautiful place which I love, there is a human being, who pushes buttons on a keypad, and has done so for so long that it has damaged them. I can’t even imagine wearing my badge which proudly proclaims my 7 years of excellence when at the same time my arm shows all lookers what that time really means to me. That clothen mark of Cain expresses what a cheerful food service persona is not allowed to: I don’t want to be here. I hurt. 

I hope her arm is alright. I hope everyone there is alright. 

Verse

This was some real fucking bullshit. 

For the upteenth time Michael rolled his neck. He had already watched all the movies that actually appealed to him, and his experiences with the rest of the lot only confirmed his suspicions. 

Usually flying wasn’t a bad thing, but all previous flights had been much shorter. Usually just from Milwaukee to some neighboring state, never anything like this 10 hour plus monstrosity. 

Still, Michael wasn’t particularly angry. People always say that anger won’t solve anything, but nothing in Michael’s life had ever supported this. What is true is that anger has a very specific skillset, and just because everything looks like a nail doesn’t mean a hammer is always the best tool. Right now anger would solve nothing. Who knew what tomorrow would hold?

From within the confines of his bag, Michael heard Davy clicking impatiently. Looking side to side as subtly as he could, Michael noted that one man on his right still appeared to be relatively alert. No luck for Davy. The whole section would have to be asleep for his presence to not be noticed. Picking his bag up and pretending to rifle through it, Michael grabbed the jar and whispered to it. 

"Bummer I can’t take you out of the bag, heh? I know this is a bit of a time for you to be confined to such a space. We’ll be there shortly…Heh, hopefully after that we can just go back home."

Davy was nothing so monstrous, only a small web spinning spider. He had previously lived in the small corner of the room over Michael’s full-length mirror. Somehow their bond had evolved from that of inhabitant and pest to a sort of acceptance, and from there to a begrudging but mutual respect. Davy needed Michael to leave the light on more than was economically advantageous, just as Michael needed Davy as a platform for bouncing comments on his attire. 

Something about leaving Davy behind during his indefinite stay abroad just struck Michael as innately unfair, so in secret he had smuggled the arachnid along. 

Michael was flying into Helsinki, and from there he’d be bused out to wherever it was his parents were staying. Both his parents were Swedish speaking Finns who had moved as children to the Upper Peninsula. Lots of Yoopers came from Finnish and Swedish stock, all looking for opportunity or some such. When Michael was twelve however, his parents had decided that they wanted to go back. 

To the pair Finland was still the magical playground of their youths, and now united they wished to experience it together. Michael didn’t really fit into this image. He didn’t mind though. If they hadn’t offered to let him live with friends, then he would have begged. Ever pragmatic, he considered his potential athletic career far more important than familial ties. 

Now he was eighteen, having just graduated, and was flying to the land of his parent’s childhood to re-meet the people who had bore him. In some ways it was a grand adventure. Michael was no fan of adventure however, so he felt nonplussed.

Poem

In my dreams now, I see your face

In an infinite void I am drifting through space.

From a place of darkness I hear your name,

And the demons inside of me find themselves tame.

I hide in your shadow, bathed in your light,

Temporarily protected from my lifetime of fright.

Your lips call me like a time-lost beacon,

And despite my doubts my resistance weakens. 

We embrace tightly, enshrining each other,

I feel so blessed to call you friend and lover. 

Beten

Once inside the building, it became clear just how massive it was. Though it had initially appeared to be large enough to hold a few animals, from inside it seemed to be almost like a cathedral, spacious enough to hold a veritable congregation of creatures.

Directing my torch about the place, I felt dry heaves racking my chest. The walls were, if not painted, with blood then splattered on multiple occasions by a large amount of the liquid. This rationalization seemed increasingly unlikely as I looked around however, as the coverage, though erratic, seemed very much intentional. 

Bones were scattered on the floor, a wealth of human and animal skeletons in varying levels of completeness. Most were twisted and cracked in places, seemingly at random. Whatever we mutilating the bodies wasn’t after the marrow, it was doing it simply because. Looking back at the group, I found the farmer’s son vomiting on his shoes while the father cried hysterically. 

Strange runes were painted across the floor and rocks were arranged in ways that imagined vague altars. Whatever monster had done this was no mere animal, and I felt a sick pride that my initial suspicion must be correct. I was no stranger to the depravity of humankind. 

From outside we heard the growling. Chills went down my spine, and, pressing my back against one of the sticky walls, I tried to repress my need to hyperventilate while I pointed my gun at the doorway. 

The creature entered walking on four legs, and I at first mistook it for a deer, but once through the narrow passage it stood up to its full height. It stood twelve or thirteen feet tall, and looked partially like an emaciated human. Its skin was stretched over its bulging ribcage and pelvis as if ready to rip, and its long arms hung almost to the ground, with fingers that must have been almost a foot each. Its knees were bent backwards like those of an animal, but their contortion seemed forced and unnatural as if the skeletal structure of the monster had been reshaped after being already decided.

Its feet were white and round with small nubs on the end, suggesting toes that had been cut off or otherwise removed.The head was mostly covered by a deer’s skull worn as a head covering, but what could be seen of the face appeared to be frostbitten and scarred beyond any sort of recognition. The mouth hung open with the lower jaw noticeably crooked. 

When entering the monster had skittered across the gory ice on its long fingertips and nubbed feet, its twisted knees out to the side. Now it slowly stumbled toward the main group, its plodding steps forcedly deliberate. 

I pointed my Luger at the monster and focused on stilling my racing heart. The creature suddenly stopped, and its head snapped to looking at me. The skull lifted up to reveal a child’s face, though frozen and horrifically rotted. A voice like that of dozens of children overlaid screamed for help before eroding into an incoherent and monstrous cacophony. From the beast a horrific sound like a hurricane gathering strength emanated, and its legs bent under it as it leapt at me. 

I unloaded on it. We all did.

Its long fingers dug like icy needles into my chest, and I found myself looking into the child’s dead eyes, one twisted in the socket and partially knocked out from some trauma. The eyes were blue and black and thoroughly cloudy, devoid of any soul of sentience. Its lipless mouth opened and closed repeatedly against my cheek as my vision swam. Wrenching its hands out of my body, I watched with bleary eyes as the beast turned toward the surviving group members. Though I slipped in and out of consciousness during the slaughter, I remember much of it distinctly.

It was too horrible for me to recite here. 

Somehow I dragged myself to the road. One of the other party members must have ran off because the creature left the den, and seizing my chance, I took off with all my remaining strength. 

I woke up in a hospital bed, the entire front of my body wrapped in bandages, and with many long stab wounds plugged with gauze. It was too long before I could return home, and as soon as I did I set to recording this tale. I refused to tell the authorities what happened to me, so this will have to serve as the truth of my death. The news informs me as well that the politician and his wife in the JAO have gone missing as well. Soon it will be too late for all of us.

I now lie in bed with my Luger pressed to my temple. 

I lived for years with a heavy mind. My service in the Schutzstaffel did not bother me, nor did my time as a prisoner of war to the Soviets.

But this. Oh God this. I cannot close my eyes without seeing the monster. 

Auf Nimmerwiedersehen.

Camp

By the time the group elected to break camp, dissension had already erupted. Huddled around the fire on this unusually cold night the hunting party divided itself into three schools of thought; those who wanted to go home, those who wanted to keep going tomorrow, and those who wanted to keep going now. 

After almost coming to blows over the supposed cowardice of some of the members, the Homers decided they’d just leave on their own, and like that more than half of our group was gone.

Not counting myself, we now had four left. Two were farmers, one was a farmer’s son, and one was a father whose son had been taken by the beast. I lazily chewed my thumb while the others deliberated over what they would do. 

The relatively even discussion was interrupted by a series of loud and growlish howls coming from somewhere off to our right. 

We all stood immediately, and without even dousing the fire took off in the direction of the noise. The farmer’s son took point, a torch in one hand and a small caliber pistol in the other. Behind him two of the men had rifles, while the last had a shotgun. 

We walked for something like twenty minutes before hearing the howls again, though this time we were unable to discern from which direction they had come. With discipline born of fear we turned back to back, forming a circle in the clearing. The howls came again and again, never seeming closer but always seeming to change direction, as if the monstrous beast couldn’t decide how best to approach us.

A lifelong animal lover, I felt very uncertain at the prospect of killing a wild creature when I had previously expected to be facing something like a gang or cult. 

The howls continued for a wild before suddenly stopping. We all stood there nervously, shifting on our feet before slowly turning back towards the direction we had set off in. Silently we continued, creeping along as if afraid to awaken anything that we might pass. Perhaps that’s exactly what we were afraid of. 

With even my bravery shaken, we wordlessly decided to return to our homes, and the weary group started looking about for which way the road might be. 

With all the pointing and gesturing in the dark, no one was truly sure not only of which way the road was, but of which way their comrades thought it might be. Settling at last on a direction as good as any other, we reverently tiptoed through the dark frigid forest. 

When at last the trees broke, we found ourselves in a clearing confronted by some kind of giant den. A crude structure cobbled together from ice and wood, it was unclear immediately if it was made by man or animal. I looked at the other members of the hunting party, and with a newfound confidence, we charged toward the construct.